Bay Journal

May 2007 - Volume 17 - Number 3

Out of Shape

New reports in April brought a shower of bad news about the status of the Chesapeake. Their common message: It’s in bad shape.

The Bay Program released its second annual Ecosystem Health report, which showed key measures of water, habitat and fisheries health remain far from the state-federal partnership’s goals in 2006.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists flunked the Bay in their first Chesapeake Bay Report Card. Measured on a 100-point scale, they put the Bay’s 2006 condition at 37, which earned a grade of a D+. They also examined 15 regions around the Bay: None scored better than a 55. The lowest score was 13. ...

Rising Chesapeake waters eroding old graveyards

Annie E. Wroten is about to be buried at sea, almost 104 years after she was laid to rest in a red brick vault in a little cemetery on the Eastern Shore.

Slowly, but surely, Bay water levels are rising, apparently accelerated by climate change. As it eats away at tracts of land on Hooper’s Island and other low-lying areas, the Bay is engulfing a number of old grave sites such as that of Wroten, who died in July 1903.

“This is ready to topple over, take the grave with it. Same with this grave,’’ Donny Willey, a local preservationist, said as she walked along a row of headstones at the edge of the cemetery. “One, two, three, four, five of them, getting ready to fall over the bank.” ...

Chesapeake’s SAV acreage down 25%; lowest level since 1989

The Chesapeake lost a quarter of its underwater grasses last year, with the Baywide acreage falling to its lowest level since 1989, according to figures from the latest annual survey.

The survey turned up some good news—the Susquehanna Flats, the largest bed in the Bay, remained intact despite a late June deluge that smothered much of the Bay with sediment.

But many other areas suffered extensive losses. Among the hardest hit were areas in high-salinity regions dominated by eelgrass, which suffered a massive die-off, apparently triggered by warm temperatures. Bay grasses in other areas were whipsawed between dry conditions in the spring and near-record river flows from a long rainy stretch in June. ...

Blue crab survey finds steady adult numbers but no sign of population rebound

The annual winter dredge survey, which is used to estimate blue crab numbers in the Bay, suggests that the crab population still shows no sign of rebounding from the low level of abundance that has marked most of the last decade.

The total number of crabs estimated to be overwintering in the Chesapeake Bay in 2007 was similar to the abundance observed in 2006, but abundance in 2007 remained below the 17-year survey average.

The abundance of young-of-the-year crabs—those less than 2 inches across the carapace—declined significantly in 2007, and is among the lowest levels observed since the survey began in 1990. ...

Gateways Network funding cut in half

The National Park Service will continue to fund the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Program this year, although at just half the level the network of natural, historic and cultural sites got last year.

U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski announced in April that the program would get $739,000 for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Part of that funding will also be used to start the new Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which Congress voted to create late last year. ...

400 years after Smith voyage, another shallop explores the Bay

Austin Hall, a native of the North Carolina mountains, has wrangled horses, guided whitewater rafting trips and led backcountry hikes in Gallatin National Forest. He is a devoted outdoorsman and self-confessed adventure seeker. But he hasn’t spent much time on the Chesapeake Bay—or sailing in general.

“I sailed on a small boat in the Bay for two days in my teens. That’s it,” Hall said.

He’s about to balance the ledger.

On May 12, twelve men and women set out on an open wooden boat from Jamestown, VA, aiming to trace the route of the Bay’s most famous explorer, Capt. John Smith. Hall is among the modern voyagers. ...

Bay’s Atlantic sturgeon may be listed as threatened species

Atlantic sturgeon, the largest fish native to the Chesapeake, may be headed to the federal endangered species list.

A scientific review panel has recommended that the Bay population of the giant fish, along with those native to the New York Bight and the Carolinas, be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

A threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future; an endangered species is one that may become extinct.

The panel of federal scientists said there was more than a 50 percent chance the sturgeon in those three areas would become endangered within the next 20 years. ...

Ethanol demand cited for surge in corn production in Bay states

Corn production in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland is expected to grow by 200,000 acres this year, reflecting the surging demand for ethanol which is boosting corn prices.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that more than 90 million acres of corn will be planted this year, a 15 percent increase from last year, and the most since 1944.

The estimate from the USDA’s Prospective Plantings report issued March 30 was based on surveys of 86,000 farms nationwide during the first two weeks of March. ...

Legislators working to ensure region gets its share of Farm Bill funding

Legislation seeking to boost Chesapeake cleanup efforts by making sure the region’s farmers get a “fair share” of conservation funds in the next Farm Bill was introduced in the House in late March.

If all of its provisions were enacted, the bill could boost the amount of conservation funding the region’s farmers receive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture by nearly $200 million a year beyond the roughly $80 million they get now.

“The focus is to provide farmers with the tools that they need and the support that they need to help the Chesapeake Bay,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, the sponsor of the bill. ...

Chesapeake Bay Report Card’s goal is to challenge regions to strive harder

If underwater grasses and bottom-dwelling organisms had a chance to grade the Bay last year, they likely would have flunked it.

They didn’t have that opportunity. But a team of scientists did it for them.

Their first-ever Chesapeake Bay Report Card assigns scores for six indicators that reflect water or habitat quality, then uses them to come up with an overall Habitat Health Index used to assign a grade. Besides the Baywide score, the report card also grades the health of 15 regions within the Chesapeake. ...

Reports Outline State of Bay, Its Resources and Restoration Efforts

The Bay Program’s 2006 Health & Restoration Assessment consists of two parts—an Ecosystem Health report, which provides information about the health of the Bay and key resources, and a Restoration Effort report, which documents implementation progress toward various goals.

Here are some of the highlights from the two reports.

Ecosystem Health

The Bay Program’s 2006 Ecosystem Health report tracks 13 indicators, grouped in three areas that represent major components of the Bay ecosystem. Most water quality and habitat goals are linked to conditions that would be expected if the region meets cleanup goals and thereby achieves water quality standards for the Bay. ...

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